soap nuts - feature

Have to see it to believe it – Soap Nuts!

Coming off of Canadian Environment Week (June 5-11th) and World Environment Day (June 5th) I thought I would share one of our latest environmental discoveries.

I often find myself a bit under-whelmed with some of ‘natural’ or environmentally friendly solutions I read about or test out. I suppose this makes sense, as some chemical cocktail designed for a specific cleaning purpose will often out-perform something which just kind of works in that regard. And, when these solutions do work, they often require more physical effort and elbow-grease. Both of these trade-offs are worth it, though, in many cases to lessen our environmental impact.

That said, my wife discovered these things called ‘soap nuts’ and decided to order a sample kit to give them a try. I was skeptical, but figured why not give it a try. Was I ever wrong in my skepticism on this one!

Soap nuts (or Sapindus) are a kind of berry or fruit which grow on trees and are in the Lychee family. I think the variety we received grow in India. Apparently, they have been used for thousands of years for washing things. Essentially, nature’s soap.

Wash things they do! Since our son was born, we have switched to scent-free types of laundry detergents. Some work better than others, but often they don’t completely remove every scent from the clothing. Since they lack the perfumes to mask what they do leave behind, the clothes never smell 100% fresh and clean. The soap nuts, on the other hand, leave our laundry smelling about as fresh and neutral as anything we have ever used.

If you have skin sensitivities to many of the harsh chemicals found in commercial detergents, these will likely solve that problem. And, even if you don’t it would be a good idea to cut-out some of the dangerous chemicals we all get way too much exposure to.

Even better, they are less work than using laundry detergent. You simply put 4 or 5 of the nuts in a cloth bag with a draw string, and toss it in the washing machine. You can do approximately 1 load per nut, so you just run this bag in 4-5 loads of laundry, and then simply discard the nuts and put some fresh ones in. The soap nuts are even compostable. No sticky cups of detergent to pour in or sticky puddles of detergent on the washer top to clean up. Super simple, super results! (For even better results see our new method below… but the above is still handy when in a hurry or traveling.)

You can also buy these things in bulk if you search around the Internet a bit, which actually brings the cost per load under what one typical pays for descent laundry detergent. (You can often find them at the local health-food store or even in the ‘natural’ section of your supermarket. I see them currently on for about $30-$40 for a 1 kg bag. Quality does vary from brand to brand though. Some brands are just dried up pieces and crumbs, while others are whole nuts.) It is a win-win-win in every way I can see. Check them out!

Also, as some of you know, I write for my Christian apologetics ministry over at Since we are Christians, we want to care for creation and this fits well into that goal. You can read an article I wrote about the relationship between Christianity and Environmentalism here.

Update: Saturday, December 23, 2017

One problem you might run into when using soap nuts, is that they require warm – or better hot – water to extract the cleaning capabilities. Soaking the bag in a bin of hot-water before dumping them in with a load of cold or warm-water wash was our previous method. (They worked fine in a hot-water load.)

We have started to boil them to make our own liquid detergent. This also extracts more out of them, which ends up saving even more money, while doing a better job.

Basically, just take like a dozen soap nuts and put them in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. The exact amounts of soap nuts and water aren’t critical, but remember the water will evaporate as you boil them down (don’t let the water amount get too little!).

soap nuts boiling in liquid

Once you get a nice brownish-yellow ‘broth’ much like good chicken-stock or quality beer, you can pour the liquid into jars for storage (it will probably keep a week or two in the refrigerator), or pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze. Then put them in a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer.

You’ll want to use 1/2 to 1 cup of the liquid per load, so maybe 4 ice-cubes. Just be sure to label the jars or bagged ice cubes as you don’t want to mistake this soap for broth or some kind of food/beverage.

You might also want to check out this episode of Shawn Stevenson’s excellent ‘The Model Health Show’ podcast on “The Sinister 6 Toxic Ingredients In Your Personal Care Products”

soap nut liquid in glass jars

soap nuts frozen into ice-cubes

Update: Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Another problem you might run into is that (as noted above) the perfumes commercial detergents use to cover up scents are absent from soap nuts. This is a good thing (as you don’t want the chemicals!), but you also want your clothing to be free of any unwanted scent. We have, since run into a few stubborn scents, as well as less-than-optimal washing machines, that leave some tough scents behind.

A great solution to this, is to simply add a few tablespoons or more baking soda to the load of laundry before running it. We’ve found that the combination of soap nuts and some baking soda can even remove the scent from things like musty towels to grease-infused fast-food uniforms.


Image credit: Just a bag of nuts by Lisa Brewster